Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Harley-Davidson Factory Tour

650,000 square foot factory.

The Harley-Davidson Vehicle Operations in York, PA assembles the Touring, CVO and Trike models of motorcycles (CVO - Custom Vehicle Order).  They also perform a variety of manufacturing operations such as making parts like frames, fuel tanks, and fenders.

Two different tours are offered.  The Steel Toe Tour and the Classic Factory Tour.  The Steel Toe Tour is $38 and offers everything the Classic Tour does plus goes into some of the employee only areas in paint and polish.  There is also a group picture and a commemorative pin.

The Classic Factory Tour is free, has a maximum of 9 people and takes you on the assembly line and fabrication areas.  It takes about an hour.  This is the tour we took.

While waiting for our tour to begin we walked around the show room.  There were wonderful exhibits and story boards.  Cameras are not allowed inside the factory but there were plenty of exhibits and story boards showing  us the various assembly processes.

The tour started with an introductory video before heading to the factory floor.  We were given eye protection and a ear piece in order to be able to hear the guide.  It was very loud in the factory.

I have never seen giant robotic arms before and there were plenty of them on the tour.   We started in the area where the fenders are made.

The fenders are made from sheet steel delivered in pieces pre-cut for each style of fender.

The giant robotic arm would pick up a sheet of steel and put it in an area where it would be squared up.  Then the arm would lay the sheet on a die press and the press would descend with 300 tons of pressure, stretching the steel to form the shape of the fender.  This is called the deep-draw process.  We watched several sheets of steel being shaped by the die press before moving on to the next robot.

A robotic laser trims excess steel from the edge and cuts mounting holes.  We were told there are holes in the floor where all the excess steel is dropped and every bit of it is picked up by a recycling company.

Another press punches additional holes and the fender is hemmed, or folded over to create a smooth, rigid edge.  Brackets are spot-welded or riveted onto the fender.

The fenders are sent to painting.

Next up were the fuel tanks.

Steel for the fuel tank arrives in coils weighing 5,000 to 10,000 pounds.

The coil dereeler and leveler removes any bend in the steel and feeds it into the deep-draw press.  A die descends over the steel to form a tank half-shell.  The left and right halves are created simultaneously on two different presses.

A shimmy trim press cuts off excess steel from the edge of the tank shell.

The tunnel is the third component of the fuel tank and is made from a coil of steel.  A press forms the tunnel.

The fuel tank goes through a washer and then is moved to the weld assembly area.

The appropriate gauge cup or filler cup is brazed to the tank half shells, if required for that model.  The shells are then robotically welded together.  The manifold and castings are welded by a second robot.

In a final welding step, the tunnel and mounting brackets are added to complete the tank.  Every fuel tank is filled with compressed air, immersed in water and inspected for leaks.

Finished, painted fuel tanks.

Next up was the frame area.  The frame is loaded into the weld-cell fixture with more than a dozen other parts.  The tail section is welded on the other side of the cell.

Six robots work simultaneously inside the weld cell to handle the materials and weld the frame.  This process takes less than five minutes.  A completed frame and tail section arrive at an inspection station where a welder verifies every weld, scrapes off weld spatter and touches up welds by hand.

This was one of the few places we saw a person on the line.  The frame and tail section are then sent to the paint area.

After seeing the areas where components were made in this factory we went to the assembly area.  In this area we saw most of the employees.  This factory employees 800 permanent employees with an additional 200-400 temporary employees added when needed.

It was fun to see the various parts hanging on hooks and moving through the factory.   In addition there were computer operated carts moving along the floor. 

There were signal lights (red, yellow, and green - just like a street signal light) to let us know when we could cross certain areas and when we had to wait for a cart to go through.  There were copper strips in the floor that the carts followed.   

At one point while we were watching the assembly line one of the AGC’s (Automatic Guided Cart) ran off the rails a little bit and stopped the whole line!  It didn’t take long for a technician to arrive to find out what the problem was.  We did notice several screws on the floor under the cart.  I don’t know if that was normal - they were picked up quickly!

The assembly line was very slow moving and it looked like each employee had plenty of time to do his/her job.  We were told there is a lever they could pull to stop the movement of parts for 30 seconds in case they needed additional time but, if pulled, a supervisor would be at your station quickly!

The motorcycle moves through the assembly area on the AGC (Automatic Guided Cart), which follows a strip of magnetic tape laid on the shop floor, moving at about six feet per minute while the motorcycle is being assembled. 

In the first assembly leg, components installed include the electrical harness and inner and outer primary drive housing and chain.  The form of the motorcycle begins to take shape with the installation of the rear wheel.

The AGC self-adjusts through a 24-inch range to best match the work level to the height of the employee and process at each station.  The employee never has to bend over or stretch. 

We saw the AGC adjusting as the employees were assembling different parts.  In Leg B the brake system is added.  Next the vehicle receives the front fork assembly which includes the front wheel.  Then the handlebars are attached.  Before moving on to Leg C, the vehicle passes through an area to receive the rear fender subassembly.

The battery, horn and mirrors are installed at the beginning of this leg.  Next, most models receive the inner section of the fairing, which holds instruments and audio electronics.  The inner fairing is delivered to the line ready to install on the motorcycle.  Finally on Leg C all vehicles receive exhaust systems, mufflers, and the kickstand which is referred to as the Jiffy Leg.

Installation of the front fender and outer fairing completes the front end, and the saddlebags are hung on the tail section of all models except Trike.  The fuel tank is secured in place, and covered with a plastic “hard guard” to protect the paint as the motorcycle proceeds down the line.  Hard guards also protect fenders and other bodywork.  On Leg E Trike models receive the rear axle, exhaust, wheels and Trike body.  At the end of Leg E, the Tour-Pak rear luggage and lower fairings are installed.

After going through the final assessment station, every Harley-Davidson is “hot tested” in the roll test cell.  While still mounted to the AGC, the motorcycle is raised and rotated onto a set of rubber rollers.  A technician flashes the electronic control system with required software, attaches fuel and electrical lines, and fires up the engine.  Following a standard sequence, the technician “rides” the motorcycle on the rollers at highway speeds and verifies that all systems are functioning correctly, including the brakes, transmission, lights and electronics.  Any issues are resolved in repair areas, and the motorcycle is re-tested before it is released for shipment.

We watched the “hot test” for several minutes.  There was a large display where we could see how fast the driver was going and information on different systems.  No fuel is put into the fuel tank during this test.  We were told that if the technician thought it was necessary he could take the motorcycle outside and ride it.  The fuel tank would then be flushed and cleaned.

The AGC carries the finished motorcycle to the Vehicle Delivery System where it is secured on a special steel shipping pallet.  The unusual shape of this pallet is designed to allow more motorcycles to fit on a standard-size semi trailer.  The loaded pallets are placed on a conveyor, which feeds an entire batch of 15 motorcycles into a trailer equipped with a self-loading system.  Trikes are rolled onto a designated Trike trailer and strapped down.  The motorcycles are transported to a local shipping center, unloaded, and sorted into efficient regional loads that are stacked two-high.  30 motorcycles are carried in a single trailer for the journey to an authorized Harley-Davidson dealer.  The shipping pallets are returned to York after the motorcycle is delivered to the dealer.

There were several motorcycles on the floor to try out.  They were bolted to the floor so there wasn’t any problem with them falling over.

Nope - riding is not for me.

We were given this pin to wear while we were on our tour.  After the tour we were told it was our souvenir and we could keep it.  So, or course, I’ll pull the pin off and make mine into a magnet.

This was a very interesting tour even though we’re not interested in owning or riding a motorcycle.  It’s always fun to see how things are made.


  1. You did such a thorough write up on this one, and since I really disliked the Harleys that moved into our neighborhood since they were SOOO LOUD, I might skip this tour. The robotics sound really interesting though, we'll see.. As you said though, it is always interesting to see how things are made!

    1. We're right there with you on the love of Harleys. Nothing like some jackass blasting through a park to shatter the serenity! But we love to see how things are made and this was a great tour for that.

  2. On the other hand, I would love this tour, because of all the robotics. I could see self driving delivery trucks in the future for this company.

    Great detailed post. Thank you.

    1. Or perhaps they will just teach the motorcycles how to drive to their new owners homes!!

    2. Now that would be a sight to see.